Niagara Catholic School District turns to e-docs to cut paper and transport costs

2009 Green 15: Electronic content management system helps schools save both time and trees

The paperless office may still be years away, but some organizations are already reaping the benefits of a less-paper office: replacing reams of paper with easier-to-manage, environmentally friendlier electronic documents.

One such organization is the Niagara Catholic School District Board (NCSDB), which oversees 53 elementary schools, eight secondary schools, six adult education sites, and a central office. The NCSDB is a member of Canada's Eco-Schools Initiative, a project that aims to teach students how to be ecofriendly. To support this initiative, the board scrutinized the district's business practices to find ways to reduce its environmental impact. The board quickly realized that its paper-intensive processes were not just impeding productivity, they were also keeping the board from reaching its sustainability goals.

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The school district is required by law to keep student files for 55 years, which amounts to a lot of paper. The district found itself running out of space to store all its documents, which continued to pile up each day. Moreover, reliance on paper had other drawbacks. For example, many of the forms used in the administrative offices required multiple approvals. Thus, courier trucks had to drive around the district for daily pickups and deliveries of forms, resulting in high transportation costs and a large carbon footprint. In addition to being environmentally unfriendly, the process often resulted in lost data and delays in approval processes.

The solution: an ECM (electronic content management) system. Using Visioneer scanners, the board converted paper documents to electronic files. Using Xerox DocuShare software, those digital files were stored in electronic document depository. The board's existing eSchool Solutions SmartFindExpress application -- which processes substitute teacher requests -- was integrated with DocuShare and the district's Webernetic @Work for School Board Processes software. These combined systems gave the district that ability to automate leave-of-absence approvals, substitute teacher scheduling, HR documentation, and payroll steps -- without all the paper or wasted time. For example, processing a teacher leave-of-absence request once took threes pieces of paper and a lengthy approval process. It's now simply done online in about 30 seconds and approved in minutes.

[ Learn how other organizations have found ways to reduce paper waste. ]

The project started with the district's HR department, then was rolled out to all the schools. Now the ECM system is accessible to more than 30,000 students, parents, and teachers, thus reducing the amount of hard-copy documents that are printed and sent home.

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